On a recent weekend, my wife, daughter and I, along with a friend of my daughter, stopped in to East of Chicago Pizzeria, which recently opened on West Henrietta Road in Brighton.
As I reported on my Facebook page, I had become aware of this pizzeria before it opened, so before we went there, I learned that East of Chicago is a chain, based in Ohio. Most of their locations are in or near Ohio. There are a couple in South Carolina and the Rochester location is their first in New York.
East of Chicago offers six crusts, which set off some red flags with me. I tend to think that a pizzeria that is trying to do too many things can't do them all well. But the proof is in the pizza, so I tried to keep an open mind.
East of Chicago offers the following crusts, the descriptions of which I quote from their website:
Pan - Our Signature Crust. Light and airy with a Crunch! "Best pan Pizza East of Chicago".
Crispy - A very thin crust with a distinctive crunch 12" & 14" only.
Thin - Hand tossed with a golden brown crust.
Square - Thin crust - 16" only.
Authentic Chicago Style - Seasoned pie crust filled with your favorite toppings, a generous layer of our blended cheese. Medium only.
Loaded Crust - Thin center with cheese & Pepperoni baked inside a folded edge.
Pizzas come in no less than seven sizes, from a six-inch "flash pan" pizza to a 32-slice sheet. There are fifteen available toppings, not including extra cheese.
I figured, go with what they claim to do best, so we got a pan pizza. Sausage won the vote as a topping.
When the pizza came out, it looked good, with a medium-brown, well-formed cornicione, and nicely melted cheese. The underside was pockmarked with a bubbly pattern. It was dry to the touch, with just a trace of oil.
And all in all, it was enjoyable, if not exceptional. The underside of the medium-to-thick crust was crisp underneath but the slice was pliable. The interior had a mouth-pleasing chew and a faint breadlike aroma. The mozzarella cheese was well melted, slightly browned and gooey, but a bit bland. Thicker pizza tends, in my mind, for a little more assertive cheese, so the inclusion of some Provolone or Parmesan would've been welcome here.
Between the crust and cheese lay a basic, mildly seasoned tomato sauce, which was applied in good proportion to the other components. T chunks of sausage were thick and meaty, also mildly seasoned.
Besides pizza, East of Chicago does wings, oven-baked subs, salads, sides, and a few sweets. There's a daily lunch buffet from 11 to 3, and a dinner buffet on Wednesdays from 6 to 9. Buffet prices vary (e.g. a kid's lunch buffet is $4.99, an adult's dinner buffet is $9.99).
This location has housed numerous restaurants over the years - Sai Gon, Thai Time, Portobello, Portofino, and I imagine some others. Frankly, if I were opening a restaurant, that would make me a little nervous. But maybe East of Chicago will prove to be a good fit.
As for the pizza, it was, as I mentioned, reasonably good if not outstanding. So don't take the following as an indictment, but just an explanation.
I hope I'm not just being subconsciously influenced by my knowledge that East of Chicago is part of a chain, but I do think there was something "chain-like" about this pizza. That's not meant to be damning; there's no reason a chain pizzeria or other restaurant can't turn out top-notch food. But the pie seemed a little formulaic. The individual components were good, if a bit bland, but they didn't quite all meld together, nor did I pick up any of the subtle aromas, flavors or textures that mark first-rate pizza. For what it was, it was OK. It just didn't wow me.
I would like to try some of East of Chicago's other varieties sometime, though it does concern me a little when a place tries to do too many things. It's like when you go to a Chinese restaurant and they've got 500 items on the menu, from every culture in Asia. Now East of Chicago is certainly not in that category, but again I think it's somewhat typical of a certain chain-restaurant or corporate mentality to try to bowl over the American consumer with an array of choices.
Having said that, that marketing strategy must pay off, or so many companies wouldn't be doing it. And it must work with me too, because I will go back eventually to try one or more of East of Chicago's other crusts. I'll hold off on a grade until I've had a chance to sample some of those other pies, but consider this one on the high side of average.
East of Chicago Pizza, 2171 W. Henrietta Rd., Rochester 14623
Sun. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.